A member of the Community Emergency Response Team assists an injured woman
Main Content

2020 NHS Data Digest: Wildfire Safety

October 2020

Since 2007, FEMA has conducted the National Household Survey (NHS) to assess the development of a culture of personal disaster preparedness and resilience in the American public. Specifically, the NHS measures individual preparedness attitudes and behaviors and investigates what factors influence individuals to begin preparing for a future hazard.

The NHS includes 5,000 respondents including both a large representative national level sample and a series of smaller hazard-specific samples.

  • 68% of adults have pursued three or more of the six basic preparedness actions
  • 68% of adults have set aside some money for an emergency

Emergency Plans in Wildfire Areas

Think ahead, have a plan, be prepared for any emergency. Know evacuation routes. Pay attention to alerts and warnings. Create and practice family communication plan. Choose a safe meeting place and carry needed medications. Back-up important documents and keep them in a safe place.

While we are enduring the COVID-19 pandemic, the most important protective action for a wildfire is evacuation.

The Coronavirus pandemic has caused serious supply shortages across the country, including N-95 masks. This means that individuals living in wildfire risk areas must make plans to evacuate early to protect themselves and their families.

  • Remember: Wildfires can spread quickly and can cut-off evacuation routes without notice. Make a plan to stay safe and evacuate early. When planning, review multiple evacuation routes from locations you and your family frequent as this can be an important factor in surviving a wildfire.
  • Follow instructions from local emergency managers who work closely with state, local, tribal, and territorial agencies and partners. They will provide the latest recommendations and appropriate safety measures based on the threat to your community. If you are under a wildfire warning, get to safety right away.
Only 29 percent of the population living in wildfire areas have emergency plans that include how to evacuate. 29 percent yes. 71 percent no.
  • COVID-19 concerns add to the urgency of planning ahead for an evacuation. Due to limited space as a result of COVID-19, public evacuation shelters may not be the safest choice for you and your family. If possible, make plans to shelter with friends or family.
  • Emergency plans should include possible evacuation locations and take into consideration the age and any underlying conditions that you or your family members may have.

There is (a little) good news!

Only 41 percent of the population living in wildfire areas have plans that include information about where to shelter. 41 percent yes. 59 percent no. Once you evacuate, where will you and your family shelter?
  • As preparedness leaders, we need to help those at risk for wildfires to understand that their plans must also include details for evacuation and sheltering.

Emergency Supplies for Wildfire Areas

Do you have the right supplies for a wildfire?

52 percent of the population living in wildfire areas have an emergency plan, which is slightly higher than the national average of 48 percent.
  • If you already have one at home, set aside a respirator, like an N95 respirator, to keep smoke particles out of the air you breathe. Respirators are not meant to fit children. Due to COVID-19, it may be difficult to find respirators.
  • Remember that not everyone can afford to respond by stocking up on necessities. For those who can afford it, making essential purchases and slowly building up supplies in advance will allow for longer time periods between shopping trips. This helps to protect those who are unable to procure essentials in advance of the pandemic and must shop more frequently. In addition, consider avoiding WIC-approved products so that those who rely on these products can access them.

Preparedness Actions

Residents in wildfire areas have become more prepared in all six basic preparedness actions.

A cloth face covering is different from an N-95 mask. While cloth face coverings, surgical masks, and dust masks provide protection from exposure to COVID-19, they will not protect you from smoke inhalation. To ensure that healthcare workers have access to N95 respirators, it is best to limit your exposure to smoke rather than buy respirators. Plan ahead to evacuate early and shelter with friends or family. This will reduce the need to use protective equipment that is recommended to be reserved for healthcare workers and other medical first responders.
  • Wildfire preparedness is a local community effort. Increases in talking with others (+12%) participating in an emergency drill (+17%) and attending a local meeting (+1%) show that more individuals are taking community preparedness actions.
  • Only 35% of those living in wildfire areas have attended a local meeting or training. A great way to help members of your community while practicing social distancing is to organize virtual meetings for communities, such as virtual homeowners association or townhall meetings. By holding virtual meetings, you can help individuals living in wildfire-prone areas attend a local meeting or training to learn more about wildfire preparedness.
Infographic: 86 percent gathered supplies to last three or more days, up 7 percentage points from 79 percent in 2019. 60 percent talked to others on getting prepared, up 12 percentage points from 48 percent in 2019. 35 percent attended a local meeting or training, up 1 percentage point from 34 percent in 2019. 74 percent sought information on preparedness, up 7 percentage points from 67 percent in 2019. 64 percent participated in an emergency drill, up 17 percentage points from 47% in 2019. 52 percent made an emergency plan, up 2 percentage points from 50% in 2019.
  • Seeking information on preparedness and making an emergency plan are closely related as seeking information often precedes making a plan.
  • In addition, few people received important information like how to plan (13%), how to evacuate (7%), and how to shelter (4%). Providing information about how to create an emergency plan and emphasizing important plan aspects, like evacuation and sheltering, will raise awareness and encourage folks to take the next step and create useful emergency plans.
What was it that you read, saw, or heard about how to get better prepared for a wildfire? How to prepare and make an emergency plan, 13 percent. What to do to prepare for a specific type of hazard,11 percent. How to protect my home, 8 percent. How to evacuate, 7 percent. How to have enough food or water, 6 percent. What important documents to collect and safeguard, less than 5 percent. How to get insurance, less than 5 percent. How to find a safe place for shelter inside, 4 percent.

Preparedness Influencers

What are the key influencers to hazard preparedness?

The NHS gathers information on four factors that influence a person’s decision to begin preparing for a future hazard. The following infographic shows the change from the 2019 findings to 2020 findings.

1) Awareness of information. 59 percent have read, see, or heard information in the past six months about how to get better for a disaster. Up 9 percentage points from 50 percent in 2019. 2) Experience with disasters. 45 percent have personal or familial experience with impacts of a disaster. Up 4 percentage points from 41 percent in 2019. 3) Preparedness efficacy. 52 percent believe that preparing can help in a disaster and are confident in their abilities to prepare. Up 6 percentage points from 24 percent in 2019. 4) Risk perception. 99 percent acknowledge that the occurrence of at least one disaster type could impact there they live. No change from 2019.
  • Just over half the population (52%) living in wildfire areas feel they can prepare for a wildfire and that their preparations would actually make a difference. Messaging and programs that emphasize the value of preparedness and help build confidence in one’s ability to prepare will increase the level of preparedness for those living in wildfire areas.
  • Experience with a disaster increased by 4 percentage points since 2019. This could help explain why we saw the large increases in both efficacy (up 6 percentage points) and information seeking (up 9 percentage points) since 2019.
How did you get the information that you read, saw, or heard about how to get better prepared for a wildfire? From TV or Radio, 36 percent. From online sources, 32 percent. From print media, 15 percent. From all other sources, 4 percent.


Stages of Change

How have disaster preparedness behaviors changed since last year for people living in wildfire-prone areas?

Five Stages of Change: Precontemplation (from 10 percent in 2019 to 5 percent in 2020), Contemplation (10 percent in both 2019 and 2020), Preparation (from 15 percent in 2019 to 21 percent in 2020), Action (from 20 percent in 2019 to 22 percent in 2020), Maintenance (from 45 percent in 2019 to 42 percent in 2020).

While the proportion of adults with no intention to prepare decreased by half (5% in 2020 from 10% in 2019) and the percentage of individuals who reported intent to prepare increased (25% in 2019 and 31% in 2020), the percentage of adults who perceive themselves as prepared remains largely unchanged. To assist individuals in moving beyond the mere intention to prepare, messaging, programs, and services that motivate or provide opportunities to take action or build skills will help individuals living in wildfire-prone areas become more prepared.

Helpful Links